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Posted at 6:05 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Va. House passes states' rights measure

By Frederick Kunkle

Virginia's House of Delegates on Tuesday struck another largely symbolic blow against centralized power in Washington, D.C., by endorsing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow two-thirds of states to cancel federal laws and regulations.

For supporters, Del. Jim Le Munyon's proposal, HJ542, offers a way of restoring balance in a federalist system in which the central government has overstepped its powers for decades. Skeptics, however, view the proposal as something like "nullification lite," a throwback to the 19th century disputes over whether a state had the power to ignore a federal law.

In his floor speech, LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) said the amendment would give states more oversight over a federal power so gargantuan that Congress cannot even effectively oversee it, and allow states to opt out of thousands of laws and regulations that often conflict and smother commonsense solutions to everyday problems.

To illustrate, he cited the difficulty Northern Virginia has faced in trying to open two HOV ramps on Interstate 66 to alleviate offpeak traffic congestion.

Although the Virginia Department of Transportation endorses the plan, VDOT had no authority to open the ramps on a federal highway, LeMunyon said. Federal highway officials in Richmond also saw its logic, but little happened until Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) invited the head of the federal Highway Administration to visit the site and see the problem for himself, LeMunyon said.

Even then, after the agency head agreed, the ramps remain closed because of a federally required air pollution study of the effect of allowing traffic to exit to the left there instead of to the right, according to LeMunyon.

LeMunyon denied that his bill renewed attempts at nullification because it would require a supermajority of the states to agree and act in concert. "We're all in, or we're all out," LeMunyon said.

But Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond) mocked the proposed amendment as an attack on the Constitution that conservatives profess to revere. In his view, the measure would allow the two-thirds of the states to rewrite laws and regulations at will, including perhaps treaties or declarations of war or the Constitution itself.

Saying he might agree that the federal government has sometimes exceeded its powers, Morrissey said the Constitution already allowed the people to check its power, both through direct elections and federal lawsuits, as Virginia is now pursuing against the healthcare overhaul passed last year.

"But the question is, do we correct it by re-drafting this sacred document," Morrissey said, waving a copy of the Constitution in his hand. "It isn't just controversial, it's dangerous."

Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William), who is often to the right of his GOP colleagues on many issues, also warned that the measure was unwise, and could play into the hands of some who argue that the states should get together to repeal the Second Amendment, whose gun rights are highly esteemed by the GOP majority.

The measure passed 59-34.

Both sides acknowledge that the measure's elaborate path to enactment has little chance of moving past the other chamber of Virginia's Capitol. A subcommittee in the Democratic-controlled state Senate killed a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) before the House took its vote.

By Frederick Kunkle  | January 25, 2011; 6:05 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011  
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Posted by: keirreva | January 25, 2011 10:12 PM | Report abuse

I am truly disappointed in my state's legislators who support this measure. In my opinion, Virginia has a poor history of recognizing the rights of its residents to enjoy the nation's freedoms under the U.S. Constitution. Even today there are attempts to restrict the rights of gays, hispanic children in public schools, and women. I cannot understand citizens of Virginia still being obsessed with celebrating the Confederacy and the Civil War. This action in 1861 was an act of treason against the nation.

I don't trust states to make the right decisions on individual rights, education, health care, and the environment.

Vote "NO" on this poor piece of Tea Party instigated legislation.

Posted by: OBX104 | January 26, 2011 8:01 AM | Report abuse

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